I’ve never been a conventional mourner who cries appropriately at bad news or funerals. Tears never come conveniently, even when I try to conjure them up. Instead they linger deep in the farthest corner of my soul, appearing randomly and unexpectedly much like a west Texas tornado leaving me in the dust, shaken and scathed. They surface at the most inopportune times like driving down a highway in pouring rain when I can barely see, or when a new friend I barely know takes his life. Or today, driving out of my father’s hometown for what I believe in my heart will be the last time.
My whole life I dreaded coming here to Nowhere, Texas.
My homesick father would beg all of us grown kids to come to the family reunion year after year in the middle of summer in triple digit temperatures where we’d sit in pools of our own sweat under pavilions in a park, giving away hugs to countless old aunts and uncles we hardly knew. Afterwards he’d drag us around to their houses in town so we could sit at their Formica kitchen tables and wood paneled living rooms listening to stories about the good Ol’ days back before the town went and turned to shit.
We’d drive out to the faraway houses that sat back in the tall grass fields of nothingness, sit some more, drink sweet tea and listen to endless stories of days long passed, of cousins and nephews that had gone down wrong roads or worse yet those that had up and left this one horse town leaving their old parents behind.
Sometimes we’d stay with relatives, sometimes we’d get hotel rooms. In the mornings, we’d eat waffles with thick artificial syrup at smoky diners and listen to dad turn on his Texas charm for the waitresses. We’d drive back, passing hundreds of miles of fields of brown grass and dead cattle and talk about how much we hated it here.
We only came for our daddy.
Through the years, as his sisters and brothers died off one by one, we’d return to help him say goodbye. Their leaving helped him to stop missing home so much, or at least he stopped talking about it. Maybe he knew as he got older his time was coming, that we’d be taking him home soon.
And here we are.
Here I am in this Godforsaken town with homemade signs on the front porch warning trespassers, they will be shot. I’m sitting in my rental car watching a well dressed cowboy with a pressed white shirt, shined up boots, matching hat and belt walking towards the courthouse, gun plainly visible at his side, and this handsome old cowboy is making me miss my dad.
We brought him home for the last time yesterday.
We took turns one by one with the shovel and buried him next to his daddy, his twin brother, and the rest of his siblings. And my insides are hollow, carved out and emptied. And the tears, they keep trying to come and I keep on fighting them back.
The thing is,this awful pass-through town suddenly looks charming and special to me. I only wish I’d seen it that way before.
But now, it’s time to go home.
It’s time to move on with my life and when the people ask me how I’m doing, I’ll put on my best smile and tell them I’m fine now that my dad is back home in Texas.
My condolences at the loss of your father. It seems, from your writing, a time filled with bittersweet emotions and memories…longings for words unsaid, times not spent; gratitude for words spoken and times spent. And that’s how life often seems to go – and how we often learn to find its meaning. I’m glad that together you found that meaning in life with your father!